Houston opens as the favorite to win the men’s NCAA tournament. But how healthy is Marcus Sasser? He missed Houston’s AAC title game loss to Memphis with a groin injury. Sasser averages 17 points per game and shoots 38% from three while being a stellar defender. If he’s healthy, it’s easy to see why Houston can win the national title. If he’s not, then there could be a surprise team emerge from the Midwest.
1. Houston +140 to make Final Four, +550 to win national title
2. Texas +400, +1600
3. Xavier +1000, +5000
4. Indiana +1400, +3500
5. Miami +2000, +5000
6. Iowa State +1600, +6600
7. Texas A&M +1200, +5000
8. Iowa +3000, +10000
9. Auburn +2500, +10000
10. Penn State +3000, +15000
11. Arizona State +10000, +20000
11. Nevada +10000, +50000
12. Drake +6600, +50000
13. Kent State +10000, +50000
14. Kennesaw State +10000, +100000
15. Colgate +10000, +100000
16. Northern Kentucky +10000, +100000
Houston (+140 to win region): The Cougars are the favorite to win the NCAA tournament after going 29-2 in the regular season (31-3 overall) and 17-1 in the AAC. The odds won’t change much during the week, so if you want to bet Houston, wait for an update on Sasser’s status. He’s the AAC player of the year for a reason and imperative to Houston’s chances of winning the national championship.
Xavier (+1000): The absence of Zach Freemantle is big for the Musketeers but it’s hard to ignore a No. 3 seed at these odds to win the region. Xavier has four other players who score at least 10 points a game and the hope is that Jerome Hunter can pick up some of Freemantle’s rebounding. Xavier is also third in the country at 39.5% from three. The key to winning the NCAA tournament is shooting well from deep.
Indiana (+1400): The Hoosiers lost to Penn State to deny us the first meeting between Indiana and Purdue in the Big Ten tournament, but don’t let that dissuade you from a possible upset bid here and a Final Four berth. Trayce Jackson-Davis averages 21 and 11 and the Hoosiers are a very efficient offensive team. Indiana shoots 49% from the field, though they could stand to take a few more threes.
Auburn vs. Iowa OVER 151.5: We need a high-scoring game in the first round and this is one primed to do it. Iowa averages 80 points per game and Auburn scores 72 per contest. More importantly, Auburn gives up 67 points a game while Iowa allows over 74 points a game. This has all the makings of a track meet. That’s much preferable to a slog where the first team to 60 wins.
Xavier -11.5 over Kennesaw State: Give me a team that shoots the 3 really well over a team that’s only 154th in 3-point defense. Kennesaw State also turns the ball over 12.5 times a game, but forces over 14 turnovers a contest. I’m going to bank on a mature Xavier team pulling away in the second half.
Drake +2.5 over Miami: This is my upset pick of the first round in the Midwest. Norchad Omier’s absence from the Miami lineup is significant if he can’t play after rolling his ankle against Duke in the ACC title game. Omier averages 14 points and 10 rebounds a game. Drake won the Missouri Valley Conference and shoots 37% from three as a team. The Bulldogs can get hot and grab a signature 12 over 5 upset.